Mexico / Peak Experience

Oaxaca with Oaxacking

One of the reasons I love Oaxaca so much is that it gives me the opportunity to step outside of my everyday persona to become someone who is more outgoing than in my regular life. I have developed connections though social media and I foster these relationships because I want to continue to be engaged with the amazingly creative community of Oaxaca.

Before my trip to Oaxaca last year, in my search to find out what was going on in the city, I found Oaxacking on Facebook. Omar, known also as “Oaxacking”,  seemed to be well connected in the food/drink scene in the city and was happy to share his knowledge with me. Unfortunately last year, because of his schedule and mine with the food festival El Saber del Sabor, we only chatted quickly at the end of the festival dinner at Origen.

Even from our brief meeting, I knew Omar was someone special and that I needed to keep in touch with him. He had great energy, was friendly and very easy for me to feel comfortable with which is a great combination in my books! Over the past year, I have followed Oaxacking through Instagram and have appreciated that his images keep my mind close to Oaxaca.  I’m impressed with his talents as a photographer and also noticed throughout the year that his business within Oaxaca seemed to be growing. I knew that this year, I definitely wanted to connect with Omar to plan a fun day together.

After going back and forth with what I wanted to do for the day with my gang, we decided that he would organize a day of touring a few mezcal palenques so I could get a better idea of the process to get an agave growing in the ground into the bottle.

We met Omar at 10am (he was prompt which always a surprise in Mexico), rented a car and then before you knew it we were driving through the beautiful countryside of Oaxaca. I had left the itinerary up to Omar, and trusted that we’d be taken on an adventure. What I didn’t expect was how lovely an adventure it would turn out to be!

Our first stop was the town of Santiago Matatlán  which is touted to be the “world capital of mezcal”, as well as the the proclaimed birthplace of mezcal. If the fields and fields of wild and cultivated agave we drove past was any indicator, I believe both of these claims.

Matatlan palenque mal de amor mezcal agave

Palenque Mal de Amor in Matatlán  looks a bit like a touristy roadside stop, but I had faith in Omar and he did not disappoint. We  were the only visitors at the palenque and were given a quick and informative tour of their production process.

Agave Matatlan Oaxaca

Depending on the species of agave, the maturation ranges from 8 years up to 20+ years. Just this fact alone makes you realize the value of each bottle of mezcal and realize there’s a reason to worry about the sustainability of the booming mezcal industry .

Agave roasted mal de amor matatlan oaxaca

Agave is harvested and cut down to reveal their hearts (piñas). They’re then tossed into an outdoor pit oven to cook for days.

Mezcal agave smash mal de amor oaxaca

The cooked piñas are broken up and then mashed with a stone wheel turned by a horse.

Barrels agave mezcal oaxaca matatlan

The mash is added to these barrels with water and left to ferment.

Distillation mal de amor matatlan oaxaca mezcal

The fibrous mess from the buckets is then distilled once (sometimes twice).

In addition to the many varieties of agave species and the terroir they are grown in, there are also various techniques throughout production that affects the end product. There are various types of ovens and methods and types of distillation that all go into creating each batch’s characteristics. So even if you choose a varietal of agave species you’re partial to, from producer to producer and even production to production there can be so much difference. That being said, it’s so important to keep an open mind to all types of mezcals going into a tasting as you never know when you’ll be surprised.

mezcalero alvaro hernandez mal de amor oaxaca

*photo by Omar Alonso

Alvaro Hernandez (shown above) and brother Armando are 4th generation mezcaleros. Alvaro was an informative guide through their generous tasting which they coupled with Oaxacan chocolate between sips. We sampled their full line of mezcals and again, there were surprises in my mind in what I found pleasing to my palate.

Susy Bando mezcal mal de amor oaxaca

My mezcal tasting face. *photo by Omar Alsonso

Mal de Amor mezcal Oaxaca

After our tasting at Palenque Mal de Amor, we hopped into the car to Pablo San Guila, where we got out  and walked a bit uphill to be rewarded with our own private oasis.

Susy Bando Oaxaca San Pablo Guila

The fresh water springs pool of water over-saturated with white silty calcium carbonate was such a pleasant surprise. It was our own private Hierve el Agua.

Oaxaca San Pablo Guila Susy Bando

*photo by Omar Alonso

 

 

Oaxaca San Pablo Guila Oaxacking Omar Alonso.jpg

As we sat quietly in the shade of the trees beside the water, I realized that I was peacefully happy, a quality that’s difficult for me to achieve at the best of times and especially when my day’s plans are in the fate of another. Kudos to Omar for his thoughtful planning as I am the daughter of a professional tour guide and when you couple that with the fact that I am a difficult person to be led around, I can be known to be “hard to please”. But this quiet little stop to recharge in the beautiful secluded Oaxacan countryside was definitely a gold star moment.

Omar mentioned that if I wandered a bit past where we were sitting, I’d come across some mammoth agave. Of course I had to check it out, while “watching out for snakes”.

San Pablo Guila Oaxaca

Susy Bando San Pablo Guila Oaxaca

Standing next to these agave, I realized they reached over 6′ in height!

We were suitably rested so we continued on our journey to our next stop in San Dionisio Ocotepec where we visited the palenque of Wakaka mezcal. I tried the full line of Wahaka mezcals last year at the El Sabor del Saber festival and I have come to recognize it as the one brand I consistently see at bars and stores across the States.

We were greeted at the entrance by 5th generation maestro mezcalero Alberto “Beto” Morales Mendez where he proceeded to give us a tour of his operation. I was in shock and awe that even with a production as large as theirs (around 40,000 litres a year), they are still doing everything by hand.  This is artisanal craftsmanship at its finest and again made me appreciate the amount of work that goes into each bottle of mezcal.

"Wahaka mezcal San Dionisio Oaxaca pinas""Wahaka mezcal Oaxaca production Beto Morales Mendez"

Wahaka mezcal Oaxaca

"Wahaka mezcal Oaxaca mill San Dionisio pinas"

"Wahaka mezcal Oaxaca grind wheel"

"Wahaka mezcal San Dioniso Oaxaca"

Like I’ve said in the past, the more I learn about mezcal, the less I know. So with my mind saturated with new knowledge for they day, I was happy when Omar mentioned it was time for lunch.

I’ve known of Reyna Mendoza’s El Sabor Zapoteco cooking classes because Omar has been encouraging me to go for the past 2 years. But my schedule in Oaxaca is always so busy, that I haven’t been able to find a day for it. Omar is a friend of the Mendoza family and was able to pull some strings to arrange a private lunch for us.

"Reyna Mendoza Oaxaca Sabor Zapoteco"

When we arrived at Reyna’s house in the hills of Teotitlan de Valle, she was just finishing up her class for the day. She warmly welcomed us and led us to her outdoor kitchen area. The table was set for us, but I wandered deeper into the kitchen to check things out.

IMG_6621

In and amongst the full kitchen were traditional tools including  clay comals (fireproof griddles) sitting on top of a wood fire typically used to roast everything from chiles to spices and corn and many giant stone metates used to grind everything from corn to making mole.

Reyna Mendoza Oaxaca Teotitlan guacamole

Reyna, putting some finishing touches on our guacamole.

Reyna mendoza Oaxaca Segueza

I noticed this lovely cauldron bubbling away on the stove for us which smelled so delicious and got me so excited for the meal that I scurried over to my seat so I could begin eating.

IMG_9876-2

*photo by Omar Alonso

"Reyna Mendoza Teotitlan Oaxaca cheese"

A delightful starter of soft cheese embedded with chiles.

"Reyna Mendoza Oaxaca Teotitlan squash blossoms"

Flores de calabaza rellenas de queso (fried squash blossoms stuffed with cheese)

"Reyna Mendoza Oaxaca flor de calabaza chapulines"

I topped a piece of tortilla with guacamole, a squash blossom and sprinkled it with some chapulines (grasshoppers) for an amazing first bite. I could have eaten a whole meal of these but restrained myself because I knew there was more to come.

"Reyna Mendoza Teotitlan Oaxaca sopa de guias"

Simply delicious soup makes me so happy and this sopa de guias lifted my spirits high with its flavourful abundance of vegetables.

"Reyna Mendoza Teotitlan Oaxaca segueza"

I was asked if I had any requests for lunch and my only request, like I’ve done so many times before in Oaxaca, was not to be served mole negro. So for the main, I was served a chicken segueza which is thickened with corn meal (which I’m sure she ground on the stone metate). It’s hard to describe the flavours of this dish in a way that anyone who hasn’t been to Oaxaca can understand. But this dish makes me so thankful for the time I have spent in Oaxaca developing a flavour memory bank filled with delicious dishes like this.

"Reyna Mendoza Teotitlan Oaxaca tortilla"

Pretty yellow tortillas were the perfect vehicle for the segueza.

"Reyna Mendoza Oaxaca Teotitlan mandarina nieve"

Mandarin nieves was a light and refreshing finish to our gorgeous meal.

With my meal completed, I sipped on a cup of coffee made from beans grown from a coffee plant next to where I was sitting and I had another fireworks moment of thankfulness in my mind. I have done a fair amount of traveling and experienced so many great things in the world, but there’s something about my adventures in Oaxaca that sit above most of the rest. I know it helps to be taken care of by wonderful people like Omar, but it’s all part of Oaxaca’s charm.

Introducing people to his hometown Oaxaca, is part of how Oaxacking makes a living, and he’s very good at it. So if you’re looking for a special experience in Oaxaca, you really should reach out to him. He can customize food and drinking (mezcal) adventures within Oaxaca Centro or beyond, take you on a photo tour, and can even put together a day of checking out Oaxaca’s amazing street art if that’s what you’re into. Not only will you see things, that most tourists wouldn’t get to, you’ll also get to do it hanging out with one cool dude. Hahaha, yes I’m raving, but he’s a very valuable resource in Oaxaca. Connect with him through Facebook messenger if you’re planning on going to Oaxaca, he’s pretty good at getting back to you promptly.

"Susy Bando Omar Alsonso Oaxacking"

Gracias Omar for an amazing day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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